A promising circular economy project for the environment has been initiated in Australia by the representative body of cotton farmers: using shredded cotton fabrics to fertilize the soil instead of sending discarded clothing and unwanted cotton items to landfill.

Cotton Australia, which represents around 1,500 cotton farmers, runs the project on a farm in Goondiwindi in Queensland. According to federal government estimates, Australia generates 780,000 tons of textile waste every year, about 31 kilos per person, while the recycling rate is just 7%. A big advantage of cotton products over their synthetic and fossil fuel-based counterparts is that natural fibers decompose in the soil.

According to Cotton Australia’s supply chain director Brooke Summers, «cotton biodegrades in no time, microbes and worms love it, with great benefit for cotton crops». Lab tests suggest that even the densest cotton fabrics disintegrate significantly in 24 hours and that shredded cotton multiplies bacteria and mold in the soil, without impacting seed germination, she added. «We need to be smarter about how waste is reduced and managed», observes the technical lead of the experiment, University of New England soil scientist Oliver Knox.

«A great benefit in this project is to remove cotton from landfills where it emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, while the cellulose in its fibers can feed microbes and worms into the soil, making it more fertile», he adds. «The potential to remove textiles from landfills, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and feed the soil can enable more sustainable practices in many sectors».

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